Feb. 24 to March 1 of 2020 marks NEDAwareness Week, as designated by the National Eating Disorder Awareness Association. Penn’s Student Health Service offers several resources for those concerned about their struggles with eating.
It takes hard work to understand and reverse the toxic behaviors that eating disorders demand you to perform. During a week about raising awareness for them, I’m here to say that no matter what you've endured or how much you have put yourself through, your struggle is valid. One massive component of many iterations of eating disorders is not believing that you are ‘sick enough.’ I believe this is mainly born from the misinformed notion that those struggling with eating disorders have a certain look, a body type that outwardly indicates a starvation diet.
But eating disorders are a mental illness. Body dysmorphia has no body type.
A failure to understand that eating disorders are mental illnesses, where a rejection of food is merely a symptom, is literally a matter of life or death. Because so many people are under the impression that to help those suffering is to give them a plate of food, comment “eat a burger” under their social media posts, and make fun of them if they don’t fit the stereotypical skeletal picture, sufferers continue to suffer while drowning in the idea that they aren’t suffering enough. For 700 consecutive days, I logged the food I ate into MyFitnessPal and for 700 consecutive days no amount of calories, from 0 to 3,000, made me feel any better about myself.
I propose Snapchat creates an option to flag photos that we don’t want to resurface on our memories. The other day, I opened my Snapchat to send my daily ‘streak’ to the three friends I still regularly snap, and I noticed that I had a notification to view snaps from exactly a year ago. Except, when I clicked to see what I was doing exactly a year ago, Snapchat flung me back to exactly four years ago, when I was 17 years old and scared of toothpaste.
More specifically, I was scared of the calories in toothpaste. I’m not going to bother telling you whether or not toothpaste has any calories, because it’s a ridiculous and harmful thing to worry about. However, 17-year-old Sophia was worried about this and seemingly everything else that would cross her lips.
While many eating disorders can affect a person’s physical appearance, it is harmful to negate someone’s struggle via reference of their body. We live in a world that immediately applauds someone when they lose weight. I think of the many headlines revering Adele for her recent weight loss. Before notifying the public on her extreme diet plan, media outlets were lauding the star for shedding the pounds. I was uncomfortable with this immediate and extreme celebration. I had no idea how she had lost weight, if it was intentional or not, and I didn't think it was any of our business.
It is overwhelming to be constantly thinking about food; to be constantly worried about what your body looks like instead of how it feels. It is embarrassing to admit that you can’t take care of yourself in the way you know you should. In a sense, those suffering from eating disorders bear the weight of the disorder, but also the public’s odd fetishization and periodical glamorization of their disease.
I’m thinking of the Netflix film "To the Bone" where star, Lily Collins, purposefully lost weight to play the role of the anorexic lead. Do you think that film would have been successful had Lily Collins not lost weight? If her character looked ‘normal’ (whatever that means)? That is, if the star of this film didn’t look abnormal, would the intrigue, the desire to understand the plight of the main character, still exist? I’m not trying to diminish the struggles of those who do look drastically ill as a result of their eating disorders, but I do think it is important to recognize when the public is always being force-fed the same image of a bony white woman as the face of all eating disorders.
But this week of NEDAwareness is a perfect time to make the smallest first step. Or, if you have already started to seek help, take this week to congratulate yourself and look at how far you’ve come. And if you haven’t struggled with an eating disorder take a few minutes this week to try to better understand what they are.
You never know who around you could be in need of help that you could provide if you knew how to recognize signs that aren’t persistently being represented on a screen.
The photos that my Snapchat memories showed me horrified me. My body dysmorphia typically prevents me from understanding how my body actually occupies space. However, while viewing those photos, I saw what everyone else must have seen. I looked small and scared, because I was.
The other day I looked at the Health app on my phone to see how many miles I walked so I could compute how many calories I had burned. It’s a good thing I can’t do mental math, because after looking at how many miles I had walked that day, I put my phone down instead of opening the calculator app.
I instead applauded my legs, which have gotten bigger since 17-year-old Sophia used to squat in chairs instead of sitting because it burned more calories, and thanked them for taking me over six miles around the city. I have a body that, thankfully, can walk and move and continue to breathe. And for this week, that is what I choose to celebrate.
Students concerned about their struggles with eating are directed to contact Leslie E. Thompson, MD, Vanessa V. Stoloff, MD and Amanda J. Swain, MD or Connie Murphy, CRNP, via this number, (215) 746-3535, as well as a member of Counseling and Psychological Services.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is email@example.com.